When people think of the Caribbean, it usually conjures up images of white-sand beaches, crystal clear water and drinks with little umbrellas in them. But like any community, there is a side to it that the masses don’t see and certainly not something most people want to even consider when heading off on vacation. The reality is that many people in the Caribbean live in poverty; they need help getting decent healthcare, getting an education, and valuing environmental stewardship as an important part of developing and maintaining a decent livelihood.
The Sandals Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International (SRI), was created to offer that help. While only officially launched as a registered non-profit organization in 2009, SRI has been working with the Caribbean community since they opened their first resort more than thirty years ago.
Headed by the energetic and seemingly unstoppable Heidi Clarke, the Sandals Foundation has hit some incredible milestones covering their three main pillars of focus—Community, Education & the Environment. Thanks to the Foundation’s work, more than 100,000 people have been impacted by their healthcare initiatives, 24 children’s homes & infirmaries have been supported, 26 schools have been adopted, 544 teachers have been trained, more than 500 computers & 100,000 books have been donated, 138 scholarships granted, 2 marine sanctuaries created & over 4,000 trees planted.
It is this spirit of community that has helped formed the basis of the Flight Centre/Sandals Foundation partnership. Flight Centre also believes in giving back and helping our industry become more sustainable, particularly with respect to tourism’s impact on the environment and the destinations we send clients or visit ourselves.
Since 2010, we have been incorporating team building exercises that give back to the community as part of the Annual Consultant & Leadership Conferences. Flight Centre staff fundraise to cover the cost of materials, tools and transportation in order to make the projects happen which has resulted in donations of $275,000 over the past 5 years. These activities, managed by the Sandals Foundation, have resulted in the largest outreach programs of their kind in the Caribbean.
“Completing these projects each year has not only had a positive impact on the local community but also on our people.” said Flight Centre President Greg Dixon. “The program has become a highlight of the conference and an experience we put a lot of effort into with amazing results we’re truly proud of.”
This year, Flight Centre returned to Turks & Caicos to help The New Beginning School, home to pregnant teenagers and troubled kids who have been removed from the public school system and are experiencing numerous challenges including lack of family support. This school serves as a second chance to inspire young people who have lost hope. There is little government support for this school through the Social Welfare Department; therefore the school relies heavily on donations. There are currently 34 students enrolled in the program and more than 800 children have utilized this space since it opened its doors. The school building, learning materials and landscape are in desperate need of major upgrades including general renovation of the structure, painting & door replacement, furniture donation, computer donation and blackboard installation.
“We are delighted to welcome Flight Centre back to the Caribbean to support the Sandals Foundation and continue the important work within our communities once again. Flight Centre’s leadership role is a beacon for the travel industry and signals what can be achieved with enthusiasm, determination and commitment,” said Adam Stewart, CEO, Sandals Resorts International.